Pennsylvania Supreme Court Declines to Adopt the “Continuous Representation Rule” for Legal Malpractice Claims
In Clark v. Stover, et al., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declined to adopt the continuous representation rule to toll the statute of limitations in legal malpractice claims. This case arose from Stover’s representation of his client, the testator’s brother in an estate lawsuit filed in 2008, as well as a second related-complaint filed in 2010. After both lawsuits failed, in 2015, Clark filed a legal malpractice lawsuit against Stover, asserting claims of professional negligence and breach of contract.
In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for claims of negligence and breach of contract are two and four years, respectively. 42 Pa.C.S. § 5524(7); 42 Pa.C.S. § 5525. The trial court awarded summary judgment in favor of Stover on the basis that Clark’s claims were time barred by the statutes. Clark appealed, and the Superior Court affirmed. In its decision, the Superior Court applied the occurrence rule, which states that the statutory period began upon the alleged breach. Under the continuous representation rule, which has been adopted by other jurisdictions, the statutory period begins when the attorney’s representation of the client ends.
Clark appealed, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court took the appeal on the limited issue of whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court should adopt the continuous representation rule. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court declined. In its appeal, Clark argued that policy considerations, including the client’s entitlement to confidence in his attorney during the representation, the client’s lack of expertise in assessing the attorney’s professional conduct, and avoidance of disruption of the attorney-client relationship, favored adoption. Stover, as well as the Pennsylvania Bar Association, argued that the rule would undermine the intent of the legislature, and that the current rule already affords plaintiffs substantial protections.
In declining to adopt the continuous representation rule, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the Pennsylvania Constitution limits the establishment and alteration of statutes of limitation to the legislature. As a result, the Court found that it is up to the Pennsylvania General Assembly to consider the change requested by Clark. Thus, until the Pennsylvania General Assembly decides to act, the statute of limitation for attorney malpractice claims will continue to accrue at the time of the alleged breach of duty.
Thanks to Benjamin Ferrell for his contribution to this post. Please contact Heather Aquino with any questions.